JUST a few years from now we’ll be looking at photos like our headline photo for this article and saying, “Aah, Striker, what a jockey he was, how we miss him!”

It seems, however, that trainers have written Piere Strydom off before he has given any indication of retirement. This is not only sad, but quite troubling if one considers that there are many, not just a few experts and racing fanatics, who consider Strydom the best South African jockey of all time, despite the achievements of our other great riding legend, Michael Roberts.

Where, may we ask, has the respect gone?

Strydom’s 5,100-plus wins is the most by any jockey in SA history. The now 51-year-old has been the peerless one in our jockeys’ ranks for the last 30 years, but his opportunities have recently dried up so quick that his agent Barry Redford is suspecting a conspiracy against the ‘Blonde Bomber’.

Redford said on Thursday: “Piere had one ride at the Vaal today, a five-year-old mare who has won only one of 35 starts. It’s the only ride I managed to secure for him and it was in the last race of the day.

“Believe it or not, Piere had one winner in the entire month of March, and one so far just one in April with one meeting to go. He’s had over 50 this season despite being off for two-and-a-half months due to suspension and injuries. Something doesn’t make sense, I don’t know what’s going on.

“When I phone trainers for rides all they say is ‘Fixed up, thanks. Fixed up thanks.’ They don’t want to use Piere. I think the younger jockeys who ride plenty of work are all putting trainers under pressure, telling them they’d stop doing the exercise riding if Piere gets booked to take their rides in a race without coming to the work track.

“I went as far as to visit Mrs. (Mary) Slack yesterday and I asked if Piere could perhaps fill in for Anthony Delpech while he is injured. She said she didn’t have a problem with Piere riding her horses, I must phone her trainers. But it’s not that easy, they have other choices too. Piere’s out of favour.”

Strydom is more philosophical about his current predicament and said: “You know, there are a number of good up-and-coming riders attached to top stables, so I’d be getting third or fourth or even fifth pick of the rides I want. That’s the way it is.

“I’ve also had an unlucky run with freak accidents, the other day Brett Warren’s runner Smoke dislodged me and fell on my knee after we’d won. I had bad patches like this when I was an apprentice in Durban over 30 years ago and a similarly poor spell in Hong Kong, but never as bad now.”

Strydom’s had to look after his knees for the last 10 years and said: “Ok, I haven’t ever ridden much work but also I’ve had to look after my knees after 40. If I am to ride for another five years I cannot be riding at the tracks in the morning and in races during the day. My knees don’t have that capacity.

There are trainers who say that Piere doesn’t follow instructions, or that he’s negative in pre- and post-race interviews, but we can’t remember this being different for the last three decades. Those have always been the complaints and still, Striker has ridden his rivals to sleep from opportunities given.

Strydom noted: “Some trainers reckon that I “pull then parachute” on horses these days, but that’s not the case. I don’t like to punish horses who are tired or way out of their ground, or when I am feeling something wrong underneath me.”

He’s had to phone for rides himself, too, but said: “I look at the list of nominations and nowadays I pass by the trainers that have stopped booking me. I can phone and try again, but it’s competitive out there, one has to ride what you can or the ride gets taken. I have to earn a living. And if I can run up close on improving horses there is always a chance I can retain those rides, so I keep trying.

“Often I end up on horses who are not ready or don’t have the form to win, but the punters still back my rides and this creates pressure. They run out of the frame and people are thinking I’ve lost it, or I don’t care. It’s a catch 22 situation. I either take third pick from a top stable or first pick from small yards who often just don’t have the stock to be competitive.”

Strydom said he could probably ride at the highest level for another five years and that he was physically and mentally fine. “Jeff Lloyd is 56 years old and has won two championships in Australia recently. I hear he’s coming to the July and then retiring. Like him, it’s important for me to get as many winners on the board before I make a decision to call it a day. It’s all still there, I have plenty to offer. Racing goes in cycles, it could turn my way again soon.”

From Turf Talk Newsletter.

Photo: Liesl King/Gold Circle.